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At Last, Wheelchairs Welcome on Broadway
February 3, 2014
Are you a musical fan? You are not alone: 11.57 million people attended Broadway musicals last year. There is something really special about getting to see a show live, no matter how many times you have listened to the official cast recording. But imagine going all the way to New York to see a musical, only to be told you cannot attend.
If you are [a person with a disability], that is exactly what might happen to you, because many Broadway theatres have fundamental access issues. They are hard or impossible to navigate with wheelchairs, scooters, canes and walkers, with poor signage and other communications to help [people with disabilities] get around or determine if they can attend a show in a given venue. Wheelchair and scooter users in particular may not be able to enter the theatre itself, let alone buy concessions, visit the restroom, or even hit the ticket stand to pick up some hot tickets for the show they have been dreaming of seeing.
All that is about to change.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and a variety of supporting caselaw, the United States has a clear legal precedence for equal access; all people should be able to enter venues like Broadway theatres without discrimination or physical barriers. That includes [people with disabilities], and in a historic settlement with the Department of Justice, nine theatres have agreed to eliminate 500 documented accessibility issues in their facilities. Yes, you read that right, 500.
This legal victory is a testimony to the fighting power of the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama. The agency has excelled when it comes to identifying disability-related civil rights violations and fighting back on them, pushing to enforce existing law and to secure equal access for [people with disabilities] in U.S. society. While access to Broadway theatres might not seem like a big deal, it is to people who want to see shows…and it speaks to a larger need to make this society one in which everyone can move freely.
[People with disabilities] who rely on wheelchairs and other assistive devices for mobility can sometimes find themselves encountering barriers at every turn. They cannot make casual plans to go out, or change plans on the spur of the moment, because they have to consider issues like whether venues will be physically accessible: can they get to them on public transit? Will they be able to get in the door? Will the bathroom be accessible? What would you do if all your friends wanted to go out to a bar and you could not get into the bathroom? That is a very real problem for [people with disabilities].
Pushing for open access across society means that [people with disabilities] do not need to worry, and they can enjoy the experience of making casual, relaxed plans with friends. Under the Broadway settlement, [people with disabilities] will be given priority wheelchair seating in addition to aisle seating for people who are comfortable making transfers from their chairs to theatre seats. In addition, access problems in restrooms, concessions stands, ticket stalls and other areas will be addressed so people can navigate theatres freely and comfortably.
That sounds like something to sing about, and so does the $45,000 civil fine the theatres will be paying, a warning to other businesses that do not comply with legal access requirements that they could be next.
More information from the Department of Justice (DOJ): Complaint: Nederlander Organization v. United States of America
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